Cato: Lessons from a self-made man

September 12, 2013 by History in a Hurry

Lessons for men — and women — from Cato’s life.


Cato: Lessons From a Self-Made Man


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni, co-authors of Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato.

Cato the Younger—the great Roman soldier, senator, and Stoic—was a hard man to like. He was ungracious in his friendships, uncompromising in his politics, blunt in his conversations, yet able to talk the Roman Senate’s ears off from sunup to sundown. We’re fairly confident that he wouldn’t have liked us, either. But we were fascinated enough by Cato to write his biography, and to tell the story of how he became the last man to stand against Julius Caesar in defense of the Roman Republic. For us, the most admirable part of his character is something entirely unexpected in an ancient Roman culture so conscious of the weight of its own past. He was, in the truest sense of the words, a self-made man.

Cato wasn’t self-made in the familiar sense: he came from a long line of statesmen, and he never had to worry about money. But Cato was self-made in a deeper sense: he made it his life’s work to live deliberately. Many of us find that our character simply happens to us: we spend an inordinate time worrying about what we’d like to accomplish, but give little thought to who we’d like to be. Cato was different. His character—austere, tough, principled to a fault—was a conscious creation.

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